A waitress who says she made about $9 an hour – including her tips – was fired from an Applebee’s restaurant in St. Louis this week for posting a photo of a customer’s receipt online.
The bill was paid by a female pastor who crossed out the automatic 18 per cent tip that the restaurant’s billing system added for groups of more than eight customers.
The pastor stiffed the server and added these words: “I give God 10% why do you get 18.”
The waitress who was stiffed showed it to another waitress at the Applebee’s, and that woman, later identified as Chelsea Welch, snapped a photo and posted it to Reddit.com, where it went viral.
When the pastor realized the receipt was online, she called the restaurant and demanded a number of staff be fired. Welch was then dismissed.
Welch later wrote a few words for Reddit.com, noting she was only paid $3.50 an hour and reached about $9 with tips. She said she was working tables – sometimes taking on 12-hour shifts without a chance to sit down – in an effort to save money to go to college.
She also said she never intended for the pastor to be identified; the Smoking Gun discovered the woman is Alois Bell, who said she was embarrassed by the incident.
Welch isn’t the first restaurant server to be fired for dubious reasons and she won’t be the last. But her situation – dealing with people who not only skip the tip but add insults to the bill – forces everyone who dines out to ask themselves an important question: are tips optional?
Waiters, waitresses, bartenders, busboys and others rely on gratuities to make their jobs pay enough to live. They need tips to make the job worthwhile as a source of income. No wait staff goes into the job blind; tips are all-important and customers have the hammer.
But there is also an unwritten contract we the customers enter into when we choose to partake at an establishment with personal service. It is a social norm to tip if the server does their job adequately, and we can show appreciation for outstanding service with an even better tip. Stiffing a server is only called for if the service has been off-the-charts awful.
In the case of the pastor at the Applebee’s, there was more than an unwritten contract; there was a policy of adding 18 per cent to bills when a group of eight or more ate together. Any restaurant I’ve ever been to that has a similar policy always makes that policy clear, and by ordering food, that seals the contract. That agreement should be sacrosanct, even if the St. Louis pastor feels otherwise.
If we’re ever going to jettison the archaic tipping system in North America, we’ll need restaurateurs who are brave enough to try the European method of including service in the bill. Wait staff should get a paycheque, just like the majority of workers, in part because it’s fair and just and takes the irrational or mean-spirited customer out of the equation.